Fly with the Phoenix

Forgetting an anniversary
June 16, 2009, 12:54 am
Filed under: Personal Transitions

A daughter passes the observance of mom’s death


This week marked the third anniversary of my mother’s death, and I completely forgot about it. Two of her best friends on earth called me that evening just to see how I was doing, and it still didn’t register with me. Having my daughter home with me for the week, demands at the office, building this online community called Hopeful Transitions, chores around the house–my days are busy, and June 10 passed without once thinking about my mother. And I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing.


The next morning, when I realized what I hadn’t done, there was a pouring out of sadness, and throughout most of the afternoon, I was in an emotional funk–an interesting concoction of guilt, grief and mild anger. Both my parents are dead–my father died in 2000–but I can’t recall the date of his death. It was sometime in September, as was his mother’s death (my grandma who lived with me most of my life) two years before dad’s passing. 


I remember birthdays, I visit their graves to pay respect on Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas and Easter. Their memories are discussed and stories fondly called up at gatherings of family and friends. Sometimes when I’m cooking, especially a recipe that was mom’s, it’s almost like she’s standing next to me saying “watch how much salt you put in that goulash; you can always add more but you can’t take it out.” When I have a challenge with my daughter, I try to channel mom’s spirit for advice by thinking “if she were here, what do I think mom would tell me.” So why do I draw a blank around the event of my parents’ transition from this world into the next? 


Could it be I’ve grown up?


We are no longer emotional children

When my mother died, a dear friend in Omaha told me how freeing it was for her when her parents passed away. She felt as though she could now complete her personal journey and grow up at last. At the time, I couldn’t understand what Bonnie meant, but I see her point now.


In her book, “Remembering Mother, Finding Myself,” Patricia Commins notes the mother/daughter relationship that can’t be replicated.


When we were born, the umbilical cord that connected our infant bodies to our mothers was cut. When our mothers died, another tie was severed: that of the day-to-day relationship between parent and child.


When it comes to our relationships with our deceased mothers, many of us are locked in an emotional time warp. Our relationships with our mothers are the same now as they were at the time of our mother’s deaths.


She goes on to write that she had to take emotional stock of the relationship with her mom at the moment she died in order to move forward. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings without judgment in order to free ourselves, according to Commins.


I was blessed with amazing parents. Dad was gentle, loving, funny and a hardworking provider for our family. Mom was loving, giving, hardworking and had a sometimes wicked sense of humor. She also pushed me different ways than dad, and that’s when we sometimes butted heads. But even as an adult, I was dependent on both of them for approval, guidance and support. I suspect this is common among only children. 


When dad died, we didn’t get a chance to say “goodbye” but when mom died, I was right there. We had months to make our peace, and when she slipped away, it was something of a relief. No more suffering due to cancer and I knew she was with her Savior Jesus and all her family who had died before her. That’s my Christian upbringing, and I believe it with all my heart and soul. 


So while mom and I were reconciled at her death, her leaving me did mean I was “on my own” without both parents. And it was scary. No longer could I seek validation before making a critical decision. But thanks to the groundwork they laid for me as a child, the relationship model they provided me, and my strong faith, I’ve got on with my life. Months after her death, I faced a possibly crippling custody battle that entailed my daughter’s moving out of my home and yet, I survived. My husband and I deal with various marriage issues–as I’m sure mom and dad did–and we will celebrate four years of marriage this November, planning to renew vows in Hawaii on our fifth anniversary. Life goes on, and I’m certain my parents would want that for me.

Working at getting on with your life

I don’t like the phrase “I’ve moved on with my life” because to me, it suggests leaving something behind. When we move to a new house, we leave behind the old and all its memories. This isn’t always bad, but I think our memories are important in our lives, so moving on after the death of a loved one doesn’t feel right to me. I miss my parents and often think of them in the morning when I have my coffee (chatting over coffee was a big part of our family life), as well as other moments, such as holidays.


But I haven’t moved on because I preserve the memories. I prefer “getting on” with my life. The word get suggests an acquisition. I may have lost a mother, but I’ve got full adulthood. And I believe mom may have lost her earthly connection with her surviving family and friends, but she’s gained a conscious fellowship with God, and in my manner of thinking, that’s amazing. 


If you are on a journey following the death of a mother, I suggest reading Commins’ book. Bethesda Hospice Care in St. Louis, a wonderful organization that provided so much comfort to my mom during the last months of her life, and to me after she died, had a reading list for those grieving a parent. Search your community for grief support groups, and check Hopeful Transitions for information, too. More online support is available through Life Preservers (, a community started by a colleague of mine, Ann Leach.


Search out spiritual help during this time. Author Max Lucado writes about grief and tells us that there are references in the Bible that speaks to the period between death and resurrection of the body (examples Phillippians 1:23 or Luke 23:43). Lucado says there’s an immediate departure of the soul and the believer enters the presence of God. If you have trouble accepting this thought, maybe a member of the clergy can clarify for you. A poem I read painted this mental picture for me. Your loved one is a beautiful, graceful ship that is sailing away from shore toward the horizon and as she slips out of view, she is just coming into view on the other side.  


The Bethesda counselors told me something about grief I’ll never forget: think of your grief as a pie. Each time you share a story about your loved one or share your feelings about their death, you serve a slice of the pie to someone. Eventually, there will be no more pie to serve. 


I’m out of pie and I’ve finally grown up. I think mom and dad would be proud.


1 Comment so far
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Hello Debbie. My name is Cathy (Babcock) Johnson
and I’m the sister of Patricia Babcock. I don’t know if you remember her but she attended Meremac Community College. She’s always wondered what has happened since losing touch with you. Since she lives in Japan and doesn’t have internet access I did some searching and finally found you. I would be glad to pass a note if you’d like to say hi. Sincerely, Cathy Johnson

Comment by Cathy (Babcock)Johnson

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